A passionate reason to grow a beard

A scene from Riogordo’s El Paso.
A scene from Riogordo’s El Paso. / SUR
  • El Paso often attracts foreign residents to take part and this year is no exception

El Paso, Riogordo’s famous Passion Play, has been performed at Easter in the town since 1951. It is as popular with tourists as it is with locals, regularly attracting around 10,000 people.

The event has been designated by the provincial government as a festival of special tourist interest, having being given the ‘Medalla de Oro’ (gold medal), among other awards. It has also been ranked among the top 90 Passion Plays in Europe and it has even been taken to ‘Europassion’, a European-wide conference of Passion Play organisers.

The play, which covers the life of Jesus Christ as an adult and focuses on his arrest and death, is performed in the open air on the side of a hill which is known in Riogordo as El Calvario and has a permanent, hand-painted and lovingly-crafted theatrical set.

Getting involved

Each year, among the 500-strong cast of the Passion Play (El Paso), a handful of expatriates get involved too. Their reason for doing so is generally to, “become more integrated,” in the life of the village, or at least so say Richard Weale and Stephen Bishop.

The two men, both originally from England, have recently retired to Riogordo and have been growing their hair and beards in preparation for this year’s El Paso, which will take place on 14 and 15 April.

“I’m normally cropped and clean-shaven,” says Stephen Bishop, 63, a former transport planner from Worcestershire. Stephen adds laughing; “to be honest I’ll be glad to get rid of it.” While Richard says that, although he’s never had a full beard before, he’ll “wait for feedback,” before he decides to shave it all off after Easter.

He and Richard, along with Richard’s partner, Carole, 56, have been told that they will play villagers. “I think there is a long waiting list to get a bigger part,” jokes Richard, 57, who volunteers for the Red Cross here in Spain and is learning Spanish.

“We bought a house here in 2003 but only recently started living here permanently,” he says. “We have seen El Paso a number of times but this is the first year we have been here at the right time for the rehearsals.”

Stephen and his wife, Caroline, are also relative newcomers to Riogordo and have a base in the UK as Caroline is still working.

Plans to stay

The pair plan to stay in the village permanently once Caroline retires within the next year or so. “We love it here,” admits Caroline who is defiant that Brexit has not put them off making the decision to move. “Nobody knows what is going to happen and decisions won’t be taken for another two years. For us, we don’t want to waste those two years. It’s no good worrying,” she says.

For now the focus is on rehearsals and hair-growing for El Paso. Rehearsals start this week and, as the new cast members say, they are looking forward to taking part in the, “biggest annual event in Riogordo.”